Question: Did you enjoy your last workplace meeting? Did you participate and where
fully engaged? Or where you bored to sleep? Was the meeting productive or a waste
of everybody’s (or mostly everybody’s) time?
And how do you feel about meetings? Do they make you feel empowered/ enlightened/
participative or bored/ frustrated/ apathetic?
Most of us have at best mixed notions about meetings, and at worst find them pointless.
So what makes for a great meeting? Are they even necessary? And how should a meeting
be conducted? Is there even a correct way to conduct a meeting?
Reality is that if you’re simply an attendee you’re options are limited: attend or
simply fail to attend the meeting. On the other hand if you’re the meeting chairman,
you’ve got the opportunity to make a change. Of course, one must be brave and willing
to do things differently: Otherwise isn’t it safer just to mumble through the proceedings?
That is just to roll through meeting’s agenda speaking with the head down into a
laptop screen or some bulleted points?
If you’ve got major influence over the meeting as the chairman/ organizer or main
stakeholder, then put yourself in the shoes of your meeting attendees. Rarely does
anyone want to waste their time and be bored.
Meeting Size and Dunbar’s Number
Professor Robin Dunbar (British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist) studied
the link between the brain neo-cortex size in primates and their social group complexity,
and suggests a parallel that can be extrapolated with human’s own larger neo-cortex
size and consequently a larger social group. This “Dunbar’s Number” is estimated
at about a 150 people socially and about 12 people for those in the “inner circle”
with much closer ties. And this appears to be in line with a number of organizations,
for example the size of a military squad of about 7 to a dozen people (close tightly
knit group), to the Roman maniple of about 120 soldiers (each maniple made up of
2 centuries, each responsible for up to 60 soldiers depending on latter’s experience
level) or the modern equivalent of the maniple being the company military unit made
up of 80 to 250 soldiers.
And why the importance of minding this number? Group size matters. A lot. And one
needs to appropriately size the meeting with enough members to generate some energy
and dynamism, while at the same time keeping it personal. Ideally for most types
of meetings (with dialogue/ contributions from all parties involved) you’d want about
six people. Take away, and it can potentially eel awkward and static, add more, and
focus and a personal touch will be lost.
Other Considerations - Meeting Shopping List
So how do we go about the business of conducting a meeting? Answer: Plan ahead, deliver
Consider the below as a possible meeting “shopping list”:
-Meeting purpose. What is the purpose of the meeting. What does it intend to accomplish.
Is it simply to present or request a status update, to mobilize members to action,
to seek their ideas or approval?
-Agenda. What items will be discussed. Prepare these in advance, and distribute
to attendees prior to meeting.
-Attendees. Who will attend. Limit the number to the minimum. Ideally only those
that have a direct interest in the meeting agenda points. Avoid where possible to
have disparate items in same meeting, as you will lose positive energy and enthusiasm
from your attendees, these being bored in wait to have their say and once done quickly
-Meeting size. As discussed earlier this is a critical point, and will affect how
you conduct your meeting. Generally keep the attendees to a minimum, unless it’s
a celebratory pep-talk type of meeting.
-Frequency. How often will the meeting be held. Will it be daily, weekly, monthly
-Format. Formal or informal. With projector and PowerPoint slides or paper notes.
Sitting or standing up.
Note: the “stand-up meeting” is actually a very efficient method to hold regular
e.g. daily meetings to discuss status, issues and concerns and promote group cohesion
and foremost meeting expediency. Those in the construction industry will be familiar
with the “tool-box meeting”, however this does not need to be limited to the construction
site, but can very effectively be utilized in an office setting (the author himself
holds a “morning stand-up meeting” every day having learned this from another colleague).
-Presentation. Keep the meeting fresh and interesting. If using PowerPoint slides,
make them amusing, with pictures sprinkled throughout. Use large font and limit the
narrative. Slides should not have more than a few bullet points. Try to throw interesting
facts and emphasize key points. You should try to keep your audience engaged and
the material discussed relevant.
- Timing. This is probably the worst offence regarding meetings. Keep the meeting
as short as possible. If some items needs extended discussion, note them and insist
on a separate “off-line” or “after-meeting” discussion. Sometimes if the meeting
resembles a workshop, with many items to be discussed it’s a good idea to have a
clock or meeting timer displayed. There is free software one can download and is
very effective in keeping meeting attendees mindful of the time (you can do a google
search for “meeting timer”).